My 2022 TBR

Last year I made a TBR of 10 books for 2021. I listed ten books I wanted to prioritize from my never ending to read shelf. The focus was on ten books I’ve been wanting to read for a while. I managed to read 8 of them. Not too bad :). So I decided to make a new list for 2022 to see where I’ll end up in 365 days from now.

This is my 2022 list:

  1. The Tudor crown by Joanna Hickson

The sequel to ‘First of the Tudors‘ (which I rated with 5 stars last year) about the rise to the top of the Tudor dynasty during the Wars of the Roses. Apart from a more human Margaret Beaufort, I really hope to meet Jasper Tudor, Jane en their children again.

2. Anne Boleyn, a king’s obsession by Alison Weir

I still have this love-hate relationship with Alison Weir, but I liked the first book in this series about Catherine Of Aragon enough to move onto one of my favourites: Anne Boleyn. But I have never before read a novel with Anne portrayed as I have her in my mind. And I don’t expect Weir to do just that, but she’s welcome to surprise me ;).

3. Written in my own heart’s blood by Diana Gabaldon

I’m one of these Outlander fangirls. I love both the books and the Starz series. After finishing the 8th book, I decided to wait with this one as it was the last one published at the time. But now that ‘Go tell the bees that I’m gone’ is finally released, I can start WIMOHB! John Grey is one of my favourite characters so if you know how the last book ended, you can understand I’m anxious to read on :).

4. A column of fire by Ken Follett

Follett now takes us to Kingsbridge during the reign of Elizabeth I. After having loved ‘World without end‘ this year, I just want to continue this series. I know some characters will feel the same again, but for me Follett is pure entertainment.

5. A tapestry of treason by Anne ‘O Brien

Set during the same events as Queen of the North, we follow the rebellions against Henry IV through the eyes of Constance of York, lady Despenser. I didn’t like Constance as a character in Queen of the North, but I expect to sympathize more in this novel. I also don’t know a lot about her and the early York family, so I hope to learn more about them.

5. I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott

I was happy to add this to my kindle collection and then forgot about it :). I never really read about American women or America’s history, but I enjoyed the musical ‘Hamilton’ a lot. So it’s time to go to the other side of the Atlantic with my reading too.

6. Circe by Madeline Miller

Attentive readers know that this one was on my Christmas wishlist and I indeed got it as a gift from my boyfriend. I’m definitely going to read more than one Greek myth retelling, but Circe has been praised so much that it’s time to read it.

7. The honey and the sting by E.C. Fremantle

Another Christmas present was the hardcover version of ‘The honey and the sting’ 😍. I still have ‘Walk the lady’ to read from the same author, so I’ll take up one of these two in 2022. As you know, I have this obsession to always leave one book unread from my favourite authors.

8. The price of blood by Patricia Bracewell

This also made it to last year’s TBR, but I didn’t grab it in the kindle store and thus didn’t read it. But I’m still eager to continue the story of Emma Of Normandy.

9. Heartstone by C.J. Sansom

The next installment in the Matthew Shardlake series will bring us towards the end of Henry VIII’s reign and the war with France. I’m curious to see how Matthew and Barak will handle their next challenge.

10. Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

After having enjoyed Mosse’s other series about the Huguenots Wars, I want to start the Languedoc trilogy of which Labyrinth is the first book. I don’t know if I will like it as much, but we’ll see.

Of course, I’ll also continue my classics club project, read some new releases and ARC’s and continue a few series (Marwood and Lovett, Oswald De Lacy, Kingmaker…).

Have you read any of these books? Which ones are on your TBR?

Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier

After her mother’s death, Mary Yellan moves to Jamaica Inn to live with her aunt Patience and uncle Joss. But the driver of the carriage warns her right away that strange things are happening at Jamaica Inn, a remote country estate in Cornwall. Once there, she discovers that Patience is afraid of her husband, who drinks a lot and hangs out with vagabonds. When Mary starts to hear strange noises under her room at night and her uncle asks her to shut her eyes, she begins to wonder what this is all about. Especially after meeting her uncle’s younger brother Jem, who is a charming horsethief.

Jamaica Inn is a typical gothic story about a mysterious estate in which a young girl tries to understand what frightens her. Du Maurier is a great author and creates a real page turner. It may all be a bit less ingenious than Rebecca, but I really liked Mary as a main character much more. She’s strong and dares to speak out against the men in her life. I liked her :).

Her uncle Joss is a larger than life character and the truth behind his actions is horrifying. There’s a bit of romance and there are some twists that you see coming. But Mary does not and it has a certain charm to experience it all from a brave but naive young girl. The various characters are well developed: from horsethief Jem, the albino priest Francis Davey, to Mr Bassat who would do anything to drag Joss before court. It all blends together beautifully.

The house ‘Jamaica Inn’ really comes alive through the pages and is a character in itself. The descriptions of a cold and foggy Cornwall provide that dark atmosphere the gothic genre is known for. I certainly enjoyed reading it. And I think I can proudly say now that I am a Du Maurier fan!

This is book 11/50 for the classics club.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What’s your favourite Du Maurier novel?

My ten favourite books of 2021

Last week, I presented you with my bookish year in numbers. This week, it’s time to list my ten favourites of 2021. With 4 five-star-reads and 20 books that received four stars, the choice was tough. Let’s go!

First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson *****

Joanna Hickson takes us to the Wars of the Roses and focuses on the perspective of the early Tudors. In this book we meet Jasper Tudor and his fictional Welsh niece Jane Hywel. It offers a whole new perspective on the known events and a human Margaret Beaufort (which is quite an accomplishment). In my opinion this is Hickson’s best book so far. I’m looking forward to read the sequel ‘The Tudor crown’ in 2022.

The Romanov empress by C.W. Gortner *****

The ideal winter read. This extensive novel covers the life of Dagmar of Denmark, better known as tsarina Maria Feodorovna. Wife to Alexander II and mother of Nicholas II, we discover the last decades of Romanov rule through her eyes. This is a fascinating book about a tragic end to a dynasty.

A thousand ships by Nathalie Haynes *****

I read this one during my cancelled holiday and enjoyed it a lot. This is the Trojan war trough the eyes of the women, girls and goddesses who lost everything. Their home, their family and their body. It’s my favourite Greek myth retelling so far and I discovered some new stories that I didn’t know yet.

World without end by Ken Follett

The long anticipated sequel to ‘Pillars of the earth’. In World without end we again follow four youngsters during their life in Kingsbridge. They are bound by secret in which even the king and queen are interested. The cruel 14th century is the setting this time, so poverty and disease are all around. These really are the Dark Ages.

The burning chambers & The city of tears by Kate Mosse ****

2021 was the year in which I discovered Kate Mosse’s books. Both books take place in 16th century France during the Huguenots Wars. Minou Joubert receives a mysterious letter and at the same time helps the Huguenot Piet flee the city. In ‘The city of tears’ the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre is one of the key events and it’s still so important to create awareness around what happened there. I’m looking forward to the third part in this series and hope to start more books from Mosse in 2022.

The color purple by Alice Walker ****

This modern classic is about the black sisters Celie and Nettie growing up in early 20th century America. The book talks as much about racism as about feminism. Apart from Nettie and Celie, there are some other black women that are part of the main cast. The novel mainly consists of letters from Celie to God, written in poor English. This all contributes to the general atmosphere. A book every woman should read at least once.

Cecily by Annie Garthwaite

Am impressive debut novel from a new voice in historical fiction. Garthwaite writes about the life of Cecily Neville. Wife of Richard, duke of York, and mother to both Edward IV and Richard III. Garthwaite takes us to the sparks of the Wars of the Roses during the Hundred Years Wars. The book opens with Cecily being witness of the burning of Joan d’Arc. I’m looking forward to her next novel, a sequel perhaps?

The scarlet contessa by Jeanne Kalogridis ***

Do you know that feeling that sometimes a book stays longer with you than you thought when you finished it? That’s why there are some three stars reads in this top ten. ‘The scarlet contessa’ tells the story of Catherina Sforza, one of my favourite historical persons. Although the book certainly has its flaws (too much magic and a high focus on Dea, Catherina’s maid), this was the only book I read set in renaissance Italy. Because of it, I again began reading about that period a lot. So, it deserves a spot here.

Winter pilgrims (Kingmaker #1) by Toby Clemens ***

Another three star read that stayed with me much longer. And yes, again about the Wars of the Roses. Thomas and Catherine, are two ‘normal’ people trying to make sense of this conflict and survive. This is an action-pace novel that focuses on the battle (also the smaller ones, which I appreciated). Clemens is no Conn Iggulden nor Bernard Cornwell, but he writes in the same tradition. However, I must admit that I liked the second part in this series ‘Broken faith‘ a lot less. I will continue this series in 2022.

The tenant of Wildfell hall by Anne Brönte

My first book of the year and also the first classic I read. This epistolary consists of letters from Gilbert to his brother-in-law. He tells the story of his new neighbour Mrs Graham who has come to live at Wildfell Hall. Gilbert immediately takes a liking to her, but Mrs Graham carries with her a conflicted past and dares not to open up to him. A lovely Brönte novel.

Have not made it to the top ten, but deserve a head ups: Revelation by C.J. Sansom (Matthew Shardlake never disappoints), The true queen by Alison Weir (finally again a Weir novel that I did like) and Protector by Conn Iggulden (for introducing me to such a fascinating period).

What was your favourite book in 2021?

December recap

Happy New Year! Although it feels like 2012 is only a few years ago, I now have to write 2022 on top of every document at work. I hope 2022 will bring a good health, love and some fun. But I also hope I’ll read some great books and that I can continue to share my reading journey with you all.

Before we dive into the new year, it’s time to look back at my reading of December. I didn’t read as much as a normal month, but with good reason…

Read(ing)

I started the month with a novel about Maria Feodorovna, set in Russia. C.W. Gortner again showed me why he’s one of my favourite authors. The Romanov empress received 5 stars and a spot in my top ten of 2021. Afterwards, I didn’t know what to read and I decided to focus again on my classics club project. I started Jamaica Inn and enjoyed it. And then, it was half December and I started Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I don’t know why but I tend to look for classic reads especially in December/January.

I kept up a good pace in Anna Karenina, until Christmas. But the week between Christmas and New Year always tends to be a difficult period for reading. So I slowed down and will only finish it in January.

Number of pages read: 1.320 pages
Number of books finished: 2
Favorite read: The Romanov empress
Centuries visited: 19th century, 20th century
Countries visited: Russia and England
Currently reading: ‘Anna Karenina’
Next up: Probably ‘The hemlock cure’, one of my Netgalley arcs

Reviewed

Blogged

Watched

  • I started the German 2021 mini series Sisi and am enjoying it so far. It’s modern and very coming of age. But I don’t mind that.

Added to my TBR

Do you read a lot in December or do you also tend to be taken up by the festivities?

My bookish 2021 in numbers

I was happy to receive my Goodreads year in books. Especially as 2021 was my best reading year ever, so I’m just going to take you through my reading stats :).

General

  • I’ve read 48 books in total. That are 9 books more than in 2020 and the highest number ever.
  • Those 48 books counted for 19.329 pages. Wow!
  • My books were on average 402 pages long. I’m happy to have an average above 400 again 🙂 I tend to read ‘big’ books so you can see this represented in the stats.
  • Ken Follett’s ‘World without end‘ with 1.014 pages was the longest one I’ve read, the 221 pages of ‘Rags in time‘ made for the shortest read.
  • My average rating was 3.5 stars.

Format

  • I varied a lot in formats and read 20 e-books and 28 physical books. I still love the smell of a real book, but I’m already attached to the ease of reading on my kindle before I go to sleep.
  • Of those 20 e-books, I received 9 books as an e-arc via Netgalley. Of which ‘Cecily‘ was definitely my favourite.
  • I only read 4 physical books that I own, so the other 24 came from the library that I visited frequently. I really hope to read more from my own shelves in 2022.
  • I didn’t buy a single book in 2021. And funny enough, this wasn’t on purpose. I blame covid-19, I guess? I received some books as a gift and listed a few for my christmas wishlist. Edit: I discovered that I bought 5 books during a library sale (for 1 euro per book).
  • I read 11 books in Dutch and thus 37 books in English.

Rating

  • I honoured 4 books with the full 5 stars and they will no doubt make it to my top 10 of 2021.
  • I also gave no less than 20 books four stars (which means I enjoyed them), so it was a good reading year. However, it will be difficult to choose my other 6 favourites to compile my top ten.
  • There were also some disappointing reads that only received 2 stars. ‘Far from the madding crowd‘, and ‘Amenable woman‘ are the ones that I remember being not my cup of tea. And both books disappointed me the most.
  • I only DNF one book, an e-arc from mystery author Paul Doherty. I won’t pick up any of his other books soon.
  • I must admit that my historical fiction books got a higher rating in general than the 12 classics I read. I gave a lot of classic books 3 stars, while I tend to rate a historical book with 4 stars.

Setting and era

I intend to keep these stats in my bullet journal for 2022, because now I was just counting this backwards and I’m not sure if I have covered everything correctly. I consider 36 books as historical fiction (I exclude most of the classics and I also count some books rather as novels than as historical – for example ‘Where the crawdads sing‘).

These are the countries in which my historical fiction novels took place:

  • England: 25 books
  • France: 5 books
  • Greece: 4 books
  • Italy: 1 book
  • America: 1 book
  • Norway: 1 book
  • Egypt: 1 book
  • Russia: 1 book

England and France again top the list. However, I would have a liked a more diverse list here. But well, I do love books set in England. And it’s hard to find other books, when those in set in England just grab my attention immediately.

Regarding the era, I did a lot better in terms of diversity:

  • Ancient Greece: 4 books
  • 10h century: 1 book
  • 12th century: 1 books
  • 13th century: 1 book
  • 14th century: 4 books
  • 15th century: 6 books
  • 16th century: 5 books
  • 17th century: 7 books
  • 18th century: 2 books
  • 19th century: 1 book
  • 20th century: 4 books

Most of the books were set during the 15-17th century. I read 5 novels that took place during the Wars of the Roses this year, one of my favourite periods. And it surprised me how every novel presented me with a new perspective on the same events. I didn’t read a book about the world wars, neither did I read a story set in ancient Rome (for the second year in a row).

People

These are some of the historical people I read about for the first time this year.

So if I look back on all these numbers, I can only conclude it was a great reading year. And that I’m already looking forward to my next ‘year in books’.

Do you keep track of your reading stats? How many books did you read in 2021? Which one is your favourite?

The Romanov empress by C.W. Gortner

Dagmar, who goes by the nickname ‘Minnie’, unexpectedly becomes princess of Denmark when her father inherits the crown from his uncle. Her elder sister Alix soon engages herself to the heir to the British throne, ‘Bertie’, the eldest son of Victoria. After Minnie rejects a marriage with another of Victoria’s sons, she catches the eye of Nicholas of Russia, the future Tsar. Nixa and Minnie are madly in love, until Nixa dies unexpectedly before their marriage. Minnie eventually marries his younger brother Alexander, ‘Sasha’. She takes on the orthodox name of Maria Feodorovna and leaves everything behind to build a new life in Russia as future Tsarina.

This is a fantastic book! It covers the last 60 years of the Romanovs’ reign through the eyes of Dagmar of Denmark, better known as Maria Feodorovna. Maria was the daughter-in-law of Alexander II, who was murdered by rebels, Tsarina of Alexander III and mother of Nicholas II, the last Tsar.

Maria, or Minnie, is a strong woman with a real-life personality who comes of age during this novel. As a young girl, she arrives in Russia in a big family. She tries to find her own place and genuinely loves her new country. She also tries to support the men around her, without trying to take over the power.

This is one of those books where the family tree up front really comes in handy. You also get a good but complex view of the relationships between the various European royal families. There are so many people with the same name that nicknames are needed :).

You can feel the unrest in Russia growing. From the hunger of the peasants, the disastrous war with Japan, the rise of the Nihilists and later the Bolsheviks to Tsarina Alexandra and her Rasputin. I found Minnie’s relationship with her sister-in-law the German ‘Miechen’ in particular very fascinating. Miechen is a confident and proud woman and she challenges Minnie to bring out that side in herself more.

Then there is her daughter-in-law Alexandra, whom she distrusts from the very beginning. Alexandra and Nicholas aren’t the rulers that the Russian Empire needs in times of War. But they are deeply in love with one another. Minnie struggles with that, as she senses that Alexandra will be their undoing. This is also the first book I have read where Alexandra and Nicholas are not just presented as victims, but as two people who stood at the wrong side of history.

Minnie is also concerned with the fate of the people and a true advocate of democracy, something she is not thanked for within her family. She volunteers for the Red Cross and a number of other charities.

And yet the revolution cannot be averted. It remains strange to read about these events. A century later, we still don’t know exactly what happened to the Tsar and his family, or to some other Romanovs who did not survive 1918. Fortunately, we do learn a lot about the fate of the survivors in the historical note.

Gortner is a fantastic author. And this is without a doubt one of his best books. I wish there were more historical fiction books about the Russian Empire.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Have you read anything good about the Russian Revolution before? What’s your favourite C.W. Gortner?

My first year of the classics club

A year ago I had the ambitious – or insane, that depends on your perspective – idea of joining the notorious classics club. The classics club is a book challenge where the goal is to create a list of 50 classics novels and read them in the coming 5 years. And then you win totally nothing :); but you can boast to your friends that you’ve read 50 classics in 5 years and they will mock you.

But how I do I look back on my first year of participating? And am I still on track? Which means I should have read a fifth of the list by now. By the way: you can find the whole list here.

Well, the good news is that I have already read 11/50 classics and am in the middle of my 12th which I hope to finished around New Year. So I’m on track.

As you can see, I’m more or less aiming at a monthly frequency of reading a classic. For me, that’s a way to structure this project. I also did participate at all the spin editions, which helped me choose my next novel.

I did notice that I hadn’t read a real bumpy classic yet this year, so that’s why I decided to start my first Tolstoj, which are lengthy novels. I’m also aware that it’s easier to read classics for me during the Winter (especially December – January), so I’m just going with the flow at the moment.

Before starting, I thought that reading classics would have an impact on my reading pace. Literature tends to read slower and takes more time, but this wasn’t really the case. I’ve never read more books than in 2021.

I must admit that there were times when asked myself why I started this challenge in the first place. There were some disappointing reads which made me scan the books and look forward to finishing it. I had expected to love these books as they survived for so long and pop up at everyone’s favorites’ list. But I sometimes just didn’t get it, or I could only admit that it was well-written prose but that I just didn’t liked the plot.

But the good news is that there were 4 books that I did enjoy enough and that I can recommend if you want to read a classic during the holidays. These were my favourites of 2021:

Jamaica Inn by Du Maurier is just a great gothic novel. I know by now that I mostly enjoy gothic or Victorian classics, so this one was right up in my alley.

Alexandre Dumas is another author whereof I knew I like his writing and storytelling. The man in the iron mask is full of humor and adventure. Maybe not so good as ‘The three musketeers’ (because it lacked Milady, one of my all-time favourite characters), but still good.

The tenant of Wildfell Hall was my first Anne Brönte. It’s a very readable classic that incorporates modern themes. I’m eager to read ‘Agnes Grey’ now.

And then The color purple! The most recent book on my whole list. This is a great book about the struggle of black American woman in the previous century. It has an unique writing style and I understand now why they say that every woman or girl should read this. I would certainly recommend it to my daughter or sister. If I had one of the two.

I don’t know what 2022 will bring, but it will bring some more classics for me. I’ll not give up on this project yet and I hope I can give you a higher number of recommendations in a year from now.

How many classics have you read in 2021?

The butcher bird by S.D. Sykes

Oswald De Lacy is again confronted with a gruesome murder on his Somershill estate. A baby is found impaled in a thorn bush. The suspicion falls onto John Barrow, a mentally ill man from the village who is said to have caused a large ‘butcher bird’ to escape from his dead wife’s coffin. Oswald gives the man protection, but when his sister’s two stepdaughters disappear, the villagers ask for his head. Meanwhile, the plague has caused his peasants to move to other villages for better wages, while the king forbids Oswald to give a raise.

The Butcher Bird starts a few months after the end of Plague land. At first, it seems like a straightforward murder mystery. A young baby, Catherine Tulley, is found dead and people claim to have witnessed a large bird taking it from its cradle. Soon there is talk of a so-called ‘butcher bird’. Oswald dismisses this as pure fabrication and is looking for the real culprit.

But there is more to the story than this murder alone, there are a lot of other plot lines that intertwine. I definitely recommend reading Plague Land first because some plot lines return. There’s the disappearance of the De Caburn sisters, his sister Clemence giving birth to a son Henry (a new heir for Versey Castle) and the fact that his work force is leaving the village. Eventually, Oswald travels to London, where we get a wonderful picture of this overcrowded, dirty and dangerous city in the 14th century.

In the middle of the novel, I thought to have worked out some things and was even a bit disappointed by some scenes, but Sykes still managed to surprise me in the end. The book felt more mature than I had thought at first. This is a light and entertaining series set in a dark age, but I loved how some more timeless themes were added. Sykes really manages to develop a strong historical setting. I’ll definitely continue this series. The next book ‘City of masks’ will bring us to Venice, a whole different setting.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Have you read this series? Do you have other historical mystery recommendations?

The doll factory by Elizabeth Macneal

Iris and her twin sister Rose paint porcelain dolls for the cruel Mrs Salter. They both have an abnormality: Iris has a bone disorder on her collarbone and Rose has a disfigured face since she recovered from smallpox. Iris is looking for more in life and dreams of becoming a painter. When Louis Frost, one of the Pre-Raphaelite artists in London, asks her to be his model, she only accepts if he will teach her to paint in exchange. Meanwhile, we also meet Silas, a taxidermist, who hopes his work will end up at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. While witnessing the construction of the Crystal Palace, he meets Iris and is instantly intrigued by her. But there seems to be a thin line between love and obsession.

This book has been fairly hyped as a good historical fiction debut with a fun Victorian setting. I was really looking forward to reading it. But after 50 pages I really felt like I was reading a different book…

We meet Silas and Iris. Silas is a taxidermist and his profession is also described in great detail. Animal murder/abuse is a big trigger for me so I had some trouble with it. But apart from that, Silas is also an obsessive man with a dark side. His chapters were not easy to read for me. However, I continued because I found Iris an interesting character because of her love for art and her relationships with Louis and her sister Rose. I liked her chapters a lot more.

I also struggled a bit with the writing. Maybe it was the translation (I read this one in Dutch). So, all things together, I didn’t really like this book. Halfway through, the tone changes to a kind of psychological thriller and the ending gets rather cliché and felt not carefully worked out.

I am one of the few people who feels this way about ‘The doll factory‘ so maybe it is just me? I don’t feel the need to pick up anything else from Macneal, also because the blurb of her next book (Circus of wonders) doesn’t attract my attention.

Too bad, I thought I would love this book. A story about art at the time of the Great Exhibition felt like a great setting but I found this story a bit over the top.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Have you ever been disappointed by a book a lot of other reviewers seemed to love?

Where the crawdads sing by Delia Owens

Kya Clark lives with her family on the edge of the swamp until her mother, her siblings and finally her father leave her behind. Nature becomes her only comfort and she tries to make a living by selling mussels to ‘Jumpin’, one of the few people that try to help her. She quickly becomes known as ‘the swamp girl’ in the village. But when two different boys show an interest in Kya and a few years later one of them is found dead – murdered? – Kya is suspect number one.

This is really one of those books that I would never have chosen myself based on the back cover. But it is fairly hyped and so I gave it a chance. This is a fine novel about a girl with a hard life who still tries to see the beauty in it. And the wilderness is maybe an even greater protagonist than Kya herself.

Where the crawdads sing‘ is also a bit of a murder mystery with a courtroom drama attached to it. Chase Andrews, the most popular guy of the village is found dead at the bottom of a fire tower. It’s not clear if he has fallen or if he was pushed. But the police suspects the latter and only one name pops up as a potential suspect: Kya.

Overall, this is a solid novel. I can understand why so many people love it. It’s an emotional story about a girl trying to make sense of the world while fighting against prejudices. I saw certain plot lines coming, but I didn’t care. You empathize with Kya’s story and feel her pain and happiness.

But I am not that excited about this book as others seem to be. This is just a fine novel. It doesn’t always have to be literature. But I did notice that this was Owens’ debut fiction novel in her writing. However, I enjoyed it enough, just a pity about the more predictable ending.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have you read this popular book yet?